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Great Missed Opportunity in the Fight against Climate Change

Great Missed Opportunity in the Fight against Climate Change

MIT Technology Review‘s CLIMATE CHANGE advises that Soaring AC demand will threaten our power grids and accelerate global warming – unless we begin making major changes soon and that Air conditioning technology is the great missed opportunity in the fight against climate change.

By James Temple on September 1, 2020.

As record-breaking heat waves baked Californians last month, the collective strain of millions of air conditioners forced the state’s grid operators to plunge hundreds of thousands of households into darkness.

The rolling blackouts offered just a small hint of what’s likely to come in California and far beyond. Growing populations, rising incomes, increasing urbanization, and climbing summer temperatures could triple the number of AC units installed worldwide by midcentury, pushing the total toward 6 billion, according to the International Energy Agency’s Future of Cooling report.

Indeed, air conditioning represents one of the most insidious challenges of climate change, and one of the most difficult technological problems to fix. The more the world warms, the more we’ll need cooling—not merely for comfort, but for health and survival in large parts of the world.

But air conditioners themselves produce enough heat to measurably boost urban temperatures, and they leak out highly potent greenhouse gases too. Plus, those billions of energy-hungry new units will create one of the largest sources of rising electricity demand around the world.

Without major improvements, energy demand from cooling will also triple, reaching 6,200 terawatt-hours by 2050—or nearly a quarter of the world’s total electricity consumption today.

Great Missed Opportunity in the Fight against Climate Change
California’s Death Valley may have established the highest temperatures ever reliably recorded, amid blistering heatwaves last month. AP PHOTO/JOHN LOCHER

Despite the magnitude of the mounting challenges, there has been relatively little funding flowing into the sector, and few notable advances in products in the marketplace. Aside from slow gains in efficiency, the basic technology operates much as it did when it was introduced nearly a century ago.

“The fact that window AC use continues to increase while the product largely looks and works the same as it has for decades speaks for itself,” says Vince Romanin, chief executive of San Francisco–based Treau, a stealth cooling startup developing a novel type of heat pump. “I think a lot of folks are excited for something new here, but there has only been incremental progress.”

There have been far larger improvements in costs and performance across other energy technologies in recent decades—like solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles—driven by public policies, dedicated research efforts and growing demand for cleaner alternatives. Treau is one of a number of startups and research groups now trying various ways to achieve similar advances for cooling.

But even if the global stock of AC units do become much more efficient, the projected leaps in usage are so large that global electricity demand will still soar. That will complicate the already staggering task of cleaning up the world’s power sectors. It means nations don’t just need to overhaul existing electricity infrastructure; they have to build far larger systems than have ever existed—and do it all with carbon-free sources.

Billions of new air conditioners

Perpetually cooling the vast volumes of hot air that fill homes, offices, and factories is, and always will be, a massive guzzler of energy.

The problem isn’t merely that more air conditioners will require ever more electricity to power them. It’s also that they’ll particularly boost the amount that’s needed during peak times, when temperatures are really roasting and everyone’s cranking up their AC at the same time. That means we need to overbuild electricity systems to meet levels of demand that may occur only for a few hours of a few days a year.

In Los Angeles County, rising temperatures combined with population growth could crank up electricity demand during peak summertime hours as much as 51% by 2060 under a high-emissions scenario, according to a 2019 Applied Energy study by researchers at Arizona State and the University of California, Los Angeles.

That adds up to about 6.5 additional gigawatts that grid operators would need to be able to bring online at once, or the instant output of nearly 20 million 300-watt solar panels on a sunny day.

And that’s just for one of California’s 58 counties. The world will see far larger increases in AC demand in nations where the middle class is rapidly expanding and where heatwaves will become more common and severe. Notably, the IEA projects that India will install another 1.1 billion units by 2050, driving up AC’s share of the nation’s peak electricity demand from 10% to 45%.

Cleaning the grid

The most crucial fix needs to occur outside the AC industry. Transitioning the electricity grid as a whole to greater use of clean energy sources, like solar and wind, will steadily reduce the indirect greenhouse-gas emissions from the energy used to power air-conditioning units.

In addition, developing increasingly smart grids could help electricity systems deal with the peak-demand strains of AC. That entails adding sensors, control systems, and software that can automatically reduce usage as outdoor temperatures decline, when people leave spaces for extended periods, or when demand starts to bump up against available generation.

The world can also cut the direct emissions from AC by switching to alternative refrigerants, the critical compounds within cooling devices that absorb heat from the air. Manufacturers have largely relied on hydrofluorocarbons, which are highly potent greenhouse gases that can leak out during manufacturing and repair or at the end of a unit’s life. But under a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol, companies and countries must increasingly shift to options with lower warming impacts, such as a class of promising compounds known as HFOs, certain hydrocarbons like propane, and even carbon dioxide (which at least has less of a warming effect than existing refrigerants).

Alternative refrigerants could reduce emissions by the equivalent of around 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the coming decades, according to the high-end estimate from a Project Drawdown analysis. (The world emitted nearly 37 billion tons total last year, according to the Global Carbon Project.)

There are also clear ways to ease the electricity loads required for cooling buildings, including adding insulation, sealing air leaks, installing window coverings or films, and applying reflective colors or materials on rooftops. Creating such “cool roofs” across 80% of the nation’s commercial buildings could cut annual energy use by more than 10 terawatt-hours and save more than $700 million, according to an earlier study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

Avoiding the ‘cold crunch’

But ultimately, the growing number of AC units operating in homes and buildings around the world need to become far more energy efficient to avoid what’s known as the coming “cold crunch.”

One of the most powerful tools for bringing about those improvements is public policy. The IEA notes that the best technology available is more than twice as efficient as the average of what’s actually in use around the world, and three times better than the most inefficient products on the market.

The problem is that most people and businesses aren’t going to pay a lot more for more efficient systems just to help achieve global climate goals, particularly in poor parts of the world. But with mandates, incentives, or subsidies, nations can help ensure that more of the units being produced and sold are higher-efficiency models.

The projected increase in cooling-related energy use shrinks 45% by midcentury under the IEA scenario that includes such policies (and doesn’t assume any technological advances).

Even then, however, AC energy demand would still leap about 70% higher by midcentury. That beats tripling. But achieving significant additional gains could require more radical changes.

Radical change

A number of startups are trying to push things further.

Transaera, cofounded by MIT energy professor Mircea Dincă, is attempting to significantly improve efficiency by tackling the humidity in air as a separate step.

In addition to cooling ambient air, conventional AC units have to dedicate huge amounts of energy to dealing with this water vapor, which retains considerable heat and makes it feel much more uncomfortable. That requires bringing the temperature down well beyond what the dial reads, in order to convert the vapor into a liquid and remove it from the air.

“It’s just incredibly inefficient,” Dincă says. “It’s a lot of energy, and it’s unnecessary,”

Transaera’s approach relies on a class of highly porous materials known as metal-organic frameworks that can be customized to capture and cling to specific compounds, including water. The company has developed an attachment for air-conditioning systems that uses these materials to reduce the humidity in the air before it goes into a standard unit. He estimates it can improve overall energy efficiency by more than 25%.

Transaera is a finalist in the $3 million Global Cooling Prize, a contest designed to accelerate advances in air conditioning to reduce the climate impacts. The company is currently testing prototypes in India in partnership with a division of Chinese home appliance giant Haier.

Meanwhile, SkyCool Systems of Mountain View, California, has developed essentially high-tech mirrors that can cast heat into the cold expanses of space, taking advantage of a natural phenomenon known as radiative cooling.

The materials are designed to emit radiation in a narrow band of the light spectrum that can slip past water molecules and other atmospheric compounds that otherwise radiate heat back toward the planet.

Placed on rooftops, the materials can replace or augment traditional building cooling systems. The company estimates the technology can reduce the energy used to cool structures by 10 to 70%, depending on the configuration and climate. SkyCool is in the process of installing the materials at its fourth commercial site.

Other startups are exploring ideas like geothermal heat pumpssolid-state technology that avoids the need for refrigerant gases, and new twists on evaporative cooling, which usually relies on water-soaked pads to reduce air temperatures.

The good news is that some money is starting to flow into heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. The research firm CB Insights tracked just eight financing deals worth nearly $40 million in 2015, but 35 totalling around $350 million last year. (This includes loans, venture capital investments, and acquisitions.) And there have already been 39 deals worth around $200 million this year.

But the bad news is that the increased level of funding is tiny compared with the tens of billions pouring into other energy and technology sectors—and minuscule relative to the scale of the problems to come.

This story was updated to add current information about SkyCool Systems, and correct the city in which it’s now based. MIT Technology Review © 2020

3D-printed Buildings from Soil

3D-printed Buildings from Soil

Eco-friendly technology could potentially replace concrete and revolutionise sector, reports Alex Mistlin, on 21 August 2020, for Scientists created 3D-printed buildings from soil.

Scientists have developed a method to 3D-print greener buildings using local soil that they say has the potential to revolutionise the construction industry.

The technology is designed to be a sustainable alternative to concrete, which accounts for approximately 7% of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

 A 3D-printed building in Dubai. The technology has been used to produce entire architectural facades. Photograph: Satish Kumar/Reuters

Sarbajit Banerjee, a professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering at Texas A&M University, said 3D printing enabled a versatility that allowed them to print entire architectural facades, although getting such structures to meet existing building regulations remained a significant challenge.

Concrete remains the primary material used in many construction projects but it cannot be recycled and requires a lot of energy to mix and transport. The research team’s aim is to print structures using the type of soil that can be found in any garden.

“While the widespread use of concrete has democratised access to housing and enabled the growth of cities, this has come at a considerable environmental cost,” said Banerjee.

“The move to 3D-print concrete threatens to exacerbate this problem. However, we envision a new paradigm of construction that uses naturally sourced materials. Using such materials will further pave the way for building designs that are specifically adapted to the needs of local climates, instead of cookie-cutter houses.

“We see this as a means of providing dignified habitats to some of the neediest populations across the world.”

What’s more, the use of local materials would reduce the need to transport concrete long distances, further reducing the environmental impact of the buildings.

The research team’s plan to replace concrete with the earth beneath our feet depends on their ability to improve soil’s load-bearing capabilities, to which Banerjee said they “are making excellent progress”.

Once they have a clearer idea of the limits of the technology, Banerjee and his team plan to investigate how it might allow for building on other planets.

“We see this research not just as a means of replacing concrete but allowing for construction in difficult environments. For instance, we have worked on addressing the problem of building all-weather roads in the subarctic. [The technology] could one day be used beyond Earth, to create settlements on the moon or even Mars.”

Here is below the World’s Largest 3D Printed House: by Apis Cor in Dubai

If you hear of an exciting or innovative building project, there is a high likelihood it will involve Dubai. Dubai have been championing ambitious architectural projects for years, and have recently made the bold move of aiming to have 25% of new buildings 3D printed by 2030.

This administrative building comprises two floors, featuring beautiful 3D printed architecture born out of an ongoing collaboration between Russian 3D printed house company Apis Cor and the Dubai Municipality.

We expect much more to come from Apis Cor in Dubai, as this building is considered by them to be just a test for larger 3D printed house projects for the future. It is claimed to have been to test whether Apis Cor’s concrete 3D printer could print a building in Dubai’s heat — and passed with flying colours.

 

Social Housing and Settlements

Social Housing and Settlements


archdaily proposed article titled Social Housing and Settlements: Potential Promoters of Community Living written by Hana Abdel gives in few pictures an idea of all prevailing trends in the world. In so far as the MENA region is concerned, the WEF recommended a couple of years back that all Urban centers to rev up their preparations for the future.


Social Housing and Settlements: Potential Promoters of Community Living, © Filip Dujardin
© Filip Dujardin

When considering “How Will We Live Together”, it is important to note the projective and future tense of the phrase. The idea not only encompasses ways we already share our built environment but targets the anticipated issues that are to be tackled to facilitate communal and mutually beneficial ways of living.

When looking at what is to come, despite the most recent health concerns, economic disparities, and environmental and social calamities the world is still heading towards dense urbanization with more people moving to cities and requiring safe and healthy housing, which is not always easy to come by. In fact, a recent UN report suggested that “nearly one-quarter of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements or encampments, most in developing countries but increasingly also in the most affluent. Living conditions are shocking and intolerable. Residents often live without water and sanitation, and are in constant fear of eviction.”

However, if these same settlement spaces are well-conceived and provide dignified living conditions, they can surely promote the development of close-knitted communities among individuals from different regions and backgrounds who were joined by similar aspirations and desire for growth. It is therefore important for architects and designers to consider and suggest settlement interventions and social housing projects that offer healthy personal and common spaces.

Social Housing and Settlements © Ricardo Oliveira Alves
© Ricardo Oliveira Alves

Below are a few examples of projects that are bringing people together and suggest practical ways of communal and cooperative living, be it through shared space usage (kitchens, halls, courtyards…) or activities engagement and maintenance of the complex (gardening, cooking), all providing opportunities for displaced, disfavored, economically challenged populations to help each other.

Shelter for Migrants and Travelers / Atelier RITA
Social Housing and Settlements © David Boureau
© David Boureau

The emergency engage to essential architecture. The first question is: How to offer dignity and functional qualities to a vulnerable population, with different cultures? The project is thought like a little town, a common notion of « habiter » regardless of geographic origin. Between public space and the most intimate space, everyone easily accommodates with a life in community.

Expandable House Part 02 / Urban Rural Systems
Social Housing and Settlements © Carlina Teteris
© Carlina Teteris

The expandable house (rumah tambah in Bahasa Indonesia, or rubah for short) offers affordable and sustainable dwelling options to the rapidly growing populations of Asia’s largest cities. Combining lessons from existing informal settlements, incremental housing precedents and principles of sustainable tropical building, the expandable house is designed to adapt to the fluctuating patterns of resource consumption and expenditure, or metabolism, of its residents.

Pemulung House / IBUKU
Courtesy of IBUKU
Courtesy of IBUKU

To improve this image, IBUKU was commissioned by a large company to develop a project that would create healthy, well organized housing compounds for garbage collectors while becoming a mean for social transformation.

SOS Children’s Village In Djibouti – Urko Sanchez Architects
Social Housing and Settlements © Javier Callejas
© Javier Callejas

A –  It is a medina for children – A safe environment, with no cars, where the narrow streets and squares become places to play

B – It is a medina with plenty of open spaces – Public and private spaces are clearly defined. And in the private, the inside and outside areas melt, allowing residents to maintain certain outdoors living.

C – It is a medina with lots of vegetation – Where the inhabitants are encouraged to take care of their plants and benefit from the result.

The AYA Housing / Studio Twenty Seven Architecture + Leo A Daly JV
Social Housing and Settlements © Hoachlander Davis Photography
© Hoachlander Davis Photography

Care is taken to organize separate entrances to the Health Clinic and Short Term Family Housing on different faces of the building. The building is intended to complement the developing SW skyline while creating an optimal living experience for the tenants with natural lighting and views out to the city.

White Clouds / POGGI & MORE architecture
 © Javier Callejas
© Javier Callejas

A new social housing project in Saintes has totally reinvented what living together means. A seemingly inhabited cloud effortlessly signals the entrance to a recently rehabilitated working-class neighbourhood, known as ‘Les Boiffiers’, dating back to the 1970s.

Centre Village / 5468796 Architecture + Cohlmeyer Architecture Limited
Social Housing and Settlements © James Brittain Photography
© James Brittain Photography

Serving underprivileged families, Winnipeg’s Centre Village housing cooperative utilizes design to help revitalize a neglected inner-city neighbourhood and to provide its residents with a unique setting that inspires pride and encourages community-building.

Apartments on Ave. Maréchal Fayolle / SANAA
Social Housing and Settlements Courtesy of SANAA
Courtesy of SANAA

There is an inherent dynamism to the distribution of buildings: the courtyards appear to open and close as you walk through them, establishing an open dialogue between communities.

Social Complex in Alcabideche / Guedes Cruz Arquitectos
© Ricardo Oliveira Alves
© Ricardo Oliveira Alves

The central building, within the same modelling and principles, contains all of the common services necessary for proper functioning and quality of living.

Bogerse Velden Social Housing / META architectuurbureau
Social Housing and Settlements © Filip Dujardin
© Filip Dujardin

The repetitions not only create rhythm in the streetscape, thereby enhancing clarity and recognisability, but also forge a collective identity.

Note: The quoted texts are excerpts from the archived descriptions of each project, previously sent by the architects. Find more reference projects in this My ArchDaily folder created by the author.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: How Will We Live Together. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics here. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact archdaily.

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Why It’s Not Quite Time to Give Up City Living

8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast

8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast

The damaged buildings include 50 ancient buildings reports Hassan Darwish of Anadolu as 8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast last week are increasingly showing that it is merely the result of a degree of negligence never attained anywhere else in the world.

8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast

11 August 2020

By Hassan Darwish | Anadolu

BEIRUT: At least 8,000 buildings, including 50 ancient structures, were damaged by last week’s massive explosion at the Beirut port, according to the High Relief Commission in Lebanon (HRC) on Tuesday.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, HRC Secretary-General Mohammed Khair said the calculation of all damage from the blast will be concluded on Wednesday.

According to Anadolu Agency reporter, the scale of damage differs from one area to another.

The HRC is affiliated with the Cabinet and its functions include aid distribution and disaster management.

The government has blamed a neglected stockpile of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for the explosion, which killed at least 160 people, injured thousands and left a vast trail of destruction across the capital.

Last Tuesday’s port blast, which rocked Beirut to its core, came at a time when Lebanon was already dealing with a severe financial crisis, and the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters have taken to the streets with violent anti-government demonstrations for the past two days, storming official buildings and clashing with police.

*Bassel Barakat contributed to this report from Ankara

8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast
Locals look at a destroyed house where the wife and two of the daughters of Syrian refugee Ahmed Staifi were killed following a massive explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
The Levant and North Africa: on the verge of . . . .

The Levant and North Africa: on the verge of . . . .

An Analysis dated 7 August 2020 by Dr Tankut Oztas is concerned by The Levant and North Africa with a challenging statement like: on the verge of economic malaise?
The pandemic-induced crisis is expected to exacerbate poverty, deepen inequality and constrain households’ access to basic needs, including health service.

ANALYSIS – The Levant and North Africa: on the verge of economic malaise?

ISTANBUL:  The spread of COVID-19 undoubtedly has had a catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable communities of the world. According to a recent World Bank report, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is ranked as second-lowest among all regions in the overall Global Health Security Index, and it comes last in terms of both epidemiology workforce and emergency preparedness and response planning. Without an effective and coordinated set of policies to achieve a swift economic recovery, the region is highly likely to suffer from greater political instabilities and become a breeding ground for terror groups.

The COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated these pre-existing vulnerabilities and risks in the widely-mismanaged economies of the MENA, where medical systems are under-resourced and much-needed infrastructure either destroyed or lacking.

A range of harsh anti-COVID-19 measures such as self-isolation, social distancing, and lockdowns, including total curfews and international travel restrictions have been implemented by governments to control the spread of the virus and protect lives.

These preventive measures, however, led economies across the region to experience severe supply and demand shocks. The most recent regional economic outlook reports published by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast that regional economies would most likely experience a sharp economic fallout by –4.2 per cent and 4.7 per cent in 2020, respectively.

Still, the real socio-political and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the MENA remains highly uncertain and will strictly depend on the duration of the outbreak and the effectiveness of the policy responses developed by each nation.

The current predictions, however, suggest that all critical macroeconomic indicators such as fiscal and current account balances, foreign reserves, and the inflow of foreign direct investment will be distressed as a result of the crisis. The pandemic-induced crisis is expected to exacerbate poverty, deepen inequality and constrain households’ access to basic needs, including health services.

The economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic effectively forced almost all countries in the region to request financial assistance from the IMF or other financial institutions to strengthen their economic position and prevent the possibility of a prolonged economic recession. As a result, regional economies have become heavily dependent on the reform directions of the IMF, World Bank, and other investment banks.

Socio-economic and political tensions remain a distinct possibility in the post-pandemic era if policy responses fail to meet the demands of the majority and set a path for swift economic recovery. Countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, and Tunisia already have debilitated capabilities. Persisting socio-political and economic hardship exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to a vicious cycle of economic malaise.

The same outcome applies to the only two oil-exporting countries of the region, Iraq and Algeria. Their economies were hit by the complete halt of economic activities due to the pandemic and have also been severely affected by the crash of oil prices. A similar assessment is applicable to war-torn countries of the region, Syria and Libya too. Though their economic outlook is linked to a sustainable political order and strong security environment, the spread of the virus and its humanitarian and economic costs are extra burdens on the wellbeing of communities living in these countries.

The only countries in the region with a relatively positive socio-political and financial outlook are Israel and Morocco. While their economies are experiencing the economic consequences of the pandemic, their macroeconomic variables are in a better position compared to their peers. Their public and externals debts are relatively lower in comparison to other nations in the region.

Nevertheless, every country will experience the heavy burden of issues such as collapsing global trade, low commodity prices, major capital outflows, and healthcare-specific challenges inflicted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The crisis is dealing a heavy blow on sectors such as tourism, export companies, and small and medium-sized businesses, which employ the largest share of the workforce and generate a considerable share of the revenue streams for the region’s economic development.

A reduction in income from these sectors, as well as remittances and foreign investment from the oil-rich Gulf countries, subsequently hampered the foreign reserves and deepened the current account deficit across the region as a whole.

Against this challenging backdrop, a range of economic recovery packages have been announced by the governments to mitigate the economic repercussions of the COVID-19. The majority of them are aimed at helping the most hard-hit sectors and communities through temporary tax relief, cash transfers or cheap financing.

The uncertainty about the real economic impact of the pandemic, however, has complicated the policy response. Many of these economies have limited fiscal and external debt capacities. The Lebanese government, for instance, has the highest external debt in the region with approximately 170 per cent of its GDP. Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq follow Lebanon with external debts of 97, 90, 87.2 and 80 per cent of their GDP, respectively.

Ultimately, many of these economies had already been battling with high poverty, political instability, and poor healthcare infrastructure; hence the historic economic downturn provoked by the novel coronavirus will aggravate existing economic and humanitarian challenges. The region already has the world’s highest youth unemployment, and it hosts countries that have weak security institutions.

In the period that lies ahead, if the geostrategic vulnerabilities and risks continue to amplify across the region without a stable political leadership, effective civil service, and a well-targeted set of economic recovery programs, the region will likely experience a prolonged economic recession and an increased risk of social unrest.

[ The writer is a researcher at the TRT World Research Centre. He holds a PhD in International Political Economy from King’s College London and specializes in global security, geopolitical risks and the politics of transnational economic affairs ]

  • Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency

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Port of Beirut: Vital, Historic Centre of a Complex City

Port of Beirut: Vital, Historic Centre of a Complex City

Sara Fregonese, University of Birmingham hurried this article on The port of Beirut: vital, historic centre of a complex city immediately after the event that will undoubtedly shake the whole of the Levant of the MENA region.

 

The centre of Beirut has suffered devastation following an explosion which has destroyed the port, caused massive damage to the Lebanese capital and resulted in numerous deaths.

 

The blast, in the early evening of August 4, has been reported as having the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake – and is believed to have been fuelled by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port.

 

While post-civil war Lebanon’s economy, infrastructure and basic services are already on their knees due to an unprecedented economic crisis, widespread public protest about believed government corruption and recently the COVID-19 pandemic, another portion of Lebanon’s crucial national infrastructure now lies in ruins. The port of Beirut handles 60% of Lebanon’s imports as well as the storage of its food and medical reserves.

 

The history of a port at Beirut stretches back to as far as the 15th century BC. In the 20th century, Beirut became a key seaport serving the oil trade and related passenger and cargo movements in the Levant and the Gulf.

 

The port has played a key role in Beirut’s history and stands at the centre of the city, surrounded by some of its most important neighbourhoods.

 

Divided past

 

From 1975 until 1990, Lebanon endured a vicious and prolonged civil war. Beirut became the site where sectarian tensions and regional geopolitics became part of urban space. It resulted in profound divisions and changes in the geography of the city. In September 1975, a few months into the civil war, the centre of Beirut became the core of militia fighting.

 

During the war the city was partitioned by a “Green Line” which split Beirut into an eastern and western sector. Demographic redistributions took place: people moved from one side of the city to the other along sectarian and political lines, with Christians settling mainly to the east and Muslims mainly to the west of the line.

 

The Green Line in Beirut during the Civil War. James Case/ CC BY, CC BY

 

The Green Line gradually progressed from the southern suburbs to the west gate of the harbour. In 1981 the New York Times reported that the port was one of the only places in the city where the Green Line could be crossed.

 

In the post-war era, the port of Beirut has expanded into a major regional hub seaport. It recently called for tenders for an international bid to manage a container terminal, to the east of where the explosion took place, and has experienced a significant increase in its vessel capacity.

 

Development and protest

 

Crucially, the port of Beirut stands adjacent to the most expensive real estate in town: the the Beirut Central District. In the early 1980s, this area was pinpointed for redevelopment, and at the end of the civil war it was the target of one of the biggest investment operations in Lebanese history. The redevelopment was considered controversial due to concerns about a lack of sustainability, inequality with the rest of the city, high property prices, lack of public spaces and costly services.

 

In 2015 and 2019, this area became the fulcrum of public anti-government protests. Until the interruption of the coronavirus pandemic, protesters took over several buildings and squares in the city centre. They campaigned against government corruption, and – among other things – for the right of access to pubic services and resources. In addition, they called for government accountability amid crumbling infrastructure and services, the loss of public space and environmental decline.

 

City streets with cafe and buildings
Central Beirut in 2017. ir_abella/Shutterstock

 

The port of Beirut also stands close to the dense residential areas of Gemmayzeh, Geitawi and the upmarket urban pockets of Sursock and Tabaris, separated only by a motorway. East of the port, and directly adjacent, are the neighbourhoods of Mar Mikhail and Karantina – the Ottoman quarantine station which marked the point of arrival and settlement for successive waves of refugees, including from Armenia in the 1920s and Palestine from the 1940s.

 

A portrait of the city

 

This cluster of neighbourhoods hosts many of Lebanon’s state and private services, including the electricity provider (EDL), a bus terminal and three hospitals. Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael, in particular, have undergone a process of gentrification in the last decade, prompting protests from residents against demolitions of heritage buildings, noise pollution and soaring property prices.

 

The popular quarters around the port and the reconstructed city centre present two sides of Beirut’s postwar reconstruction. Top-down regeneration with a master plan has taken place in the Beirut Central District, while a slow-burning gentrification characterises the other neighbourhoods.

 

It has been reported that operations will shift from Beirut’s devastated port to Lebanon’s other seaport with container capacity in Tripoli, around 80km along the coast. But it cannot be understated how much has been lost in terms of investment in the port of Beirut, and in the surrounding city.

 

Sara Fregonese, Lecturer in political geography, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, University of Birmingham

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.